So far my focus on walking and cycling for transportation has been mostly focused on short trips near a person’s home. For the 80.7% of Americans living in urban areas (loosely defined) this is fine as it covers a potentially large portion of total trips. But what happens when trips start to extend a bit further?
Here’s a hypothetical trip example: let’s say a person wants to go from Harrisonburg, VA to Roanoke, VA. Google Maps estimates this trip at about 120 miles. This is more than I can cover in one day on a loaded bicycle in hilly terrain, so let’s assume that bicycling will require a night of camping somewhere mid-trip. We’ll revisit this example, but first, let’s talk a bit about camping.
Pulling over in a car and grabbing a few hours of shut-eye on a road trip is an easy and common solution to a multi-day trip. I’ve car camped more times than I can count. This can, at times, be challenging to do in an entirely legal fashion, though. Most Interstate highway rest stops have “No Overnight Parking” signs posted, though enforcement is generally lax. Parking lots typically don’t allow overnight parking: I once woke with a tow notice on my windshield after stopping for the night in a shopping center parking lot. Take away the car, though, and the task suddenly becomes much more difficult. I’ve camped while traveling by car, motorcycle, bicycle, and hiking, and in settings from secluded rural to dense urban. The primary advantage of using a car for overnight camping is that there is no visual cue, at a distance, differentiating it from any other parked car; so a person can car camp in the open without being bothered. Two-wheeled or foot travelers don’t have this luxury and must seek some sort of cover (e.g. trees) to avoid being bothered by passers-by.
Ken Kifer was a cyclist, English teacher and writer who wrote a great deal about responsible, legal cycle camping. Sadly, he was killed by a drunk driver near his home in Alabama in 2003. Kifer’s website (link goes to mirror, original site is now defunct), despite its Web 1.0 style, is a trove of thoughtful and eloquent musings on every aspect of cycling, with particularly relevant entries on camping. Much of his advice on picking a good campsite applies to foot travel as well. He goes straight to the heart of the issue with this observation: “In traveling by bike, does the law require me to beg or buy a place to sleep at night? There is no such law.” This is commonly assumed as a de facto law, however, and some may struggle to accept that stopping overnight is a part of travel and should be protected as such; as a fundamental civil right. There is no legal requirement to pay for a hotel on a multi-day journey. Freedom of movement is a right, and this freedom is not restricted to the radius of travel that a person can cover in one day. Outside of urban areas (defined loosely, above), camping becomes an extension of freedom of movement.
Kifer expands his discussion on wild camping: “For a motorist, to travel an extra five miles one way to the campground is no big deal, but to a cyclist the ten-mile round trip to the campground is likely to be 20% of the day’s travel.” For a person traveling by foot, the difference is even more extreme: designated campsites may be spaced apart by more than a full day’s walk. Going back to our Harrisonburg – Roanoke example, the map shows only a couple roads leading off into the nearby parklands. These roads will all be steep uphill climbs leading out of the Shenandoah Valley. The obvious conclusion is that our hypothetical traveler would camp along the roadway rather than going far out of the way to find a designated campsite. Kifer goes into great depth on the intricacies of camping on/near public vs. private property, distance to camp from roadways, etc, so I won’t rehash those topics. If you’re interested, give the camping article a read, it’s well worth it.
Now I’d like to return to the main focus of this blog series, which is attitudes towards transportation options. Americans have a somewhat unique disdain of activities like camping (non-recreational camping, at least) and hitchhiking. Many European countries, despite having better public transit systems than the US, see much greater rates of camping and hitchhiking. Perhaps relatedly, many of these same European countries also encourage students to take a gap year between high school and university. Many young people devote this period of time to travel, often on a tight budget, and may be more inclined to embrace hitchhiking and camping and thereby develop a positive attitude towards the practices. Whatever the reasons for Americans’ coldness toward these notions (Puritanical work ethic? bootstraps?), this is definitely a culturally embedded attitude that manifests in people’s transportation choices.
How many of you reading this have camped out in your car on a road trip? Do you think there is anything wrong with car camping? Should travelers using other (non-car) means have the same ability to freely stay overnight along their trips?
Transportation Series Index
Part 1: Freedom of Movement
Part 2: Coded in Law
Part 3: The Urban/Rural Divide
Part 4: The Source of Value
Part 5: Copenhagen
Part 6: E-bikes in America
Part 7: A Two-Day Trip?
Part 8: The Way Forward: Complete Streets
Part 9: Of Race and Socioeconomics
Part 10: The Power of Attitudes